Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Elaine Gawthrop, left, and Kendra Phillips place boxes of food into a truck at the Care Mission food pantry in Lafayette, Ga. on Wednesday, March 17, 2021.

While the country seems to be creeping closer to a sense of normality as millions of Americans get the COVID-19 vaccine each day, the increase in hunger seen during the pandemic shows no signs of slowing.

Deon Phillips, who operates the Care Mission food pantry in LaFayette, estimates that need increased by about 20% over the past year.

"The biggest increase we've seen is in the form of families that had jobs and normally wouldn't be needing our services," Phillips said.

Prior to the pandemic, only about 2.5% of the people served by the pantry were able to work, with the vast majority being children, seniors or disabled, he said.

But in the past year, the percentage of people the Care Mission serves who are able to work has grown to 15%.

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LaFayette, Georgia, food pantry

People whose children typically get free or reduced-price lunches at school contributed to the increase as well, he said, turning to the pantry when schools were closed.

Although pandemic-related resources are helping to shore up the organization for now, Phillips said he expects a similar level of need to continue after those resources run out.

He's noticed that just after stimulus checks go out, the number of people who come to the pantry drops for a few weeks. But it always goes right back up, he said.

The pantry's busiest year ever was actually 2019 — COVID-19 only compounded an existing problem, expanding the need to a wider population that may not decrease as coronavirus cases decline.

"We're expecting the worst is yet to come," said Phillips.

Contact Emily Crisman at or 423-757-6508.

How to get help

The pantry is at 105 N. Chattanooga St. in LaFayette and is open Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from noon to 4 p.m. It serves residents of Walker County and the 30707, 30725, 30728, 30731, 30738, 30739, 30741, 30742, 30750, 30753 ZIP codes who meet Emergency Food Assistance Program income guidelines. ID required.

How to help:

Make a monetary donation at, or drop off donations of hygiene items such as deodorant, shampoo and toothpaste.

The pantry can purchase most food at a lower cost than the general public, but that’s not the case with hygiene items, Phillips said.